Idaho teachers

Idaho is facing a teacher shortage.
And it’s bound to get worse.  A report from the Economic Policy Institute says the United States was short 110,000 teachers in 2018 and that may shoot up to 200,000 by 2025.
That’s serious–two decades of research indicate good teachers make a major difference in the classroom.
It’s not that Idaho legislators have been ignoring the problem.
Beginning teacher pay has increased $10,000 in less than a decade.
Stipends for teachers who do more–coach kids, work on committees, mentor other teachers–are better funded.
Twelve hundred teachers received $4,000 Master Teacher Premiums this month.  And funding the third rung of the career ladder salary program made the shortlist of recommendations by Gov. Brad Little’s K-12 education task force.
Is this enough to end the perennial shortage of qualified teachers in Idaho?
Not likely. We’re basically keeping up with actions other states are taking–and Idaho is starting with teacher pay more than $10,000 below the national average. And housing prices nearly doubling in recent years means we can no longer imagine that a lower cost of living is enough to make up the difference.
According to the State Board of Education, our problem is retention. Idaho issues enough teacher certificates to have a surplus of educators, but one-third never teach in this state. And 10 percent of out teachers each year quit each year, substantially more than the national average of eight percent.
Peter Green of Forbes magazine is emphatic that the  problem is teacher pay. “If I can’t buy a Porsche for $1.98, that doesn’t mean there’s an automobile shortage.”
Yet, he does note other factors of importance. “…over the past couple of decades teachers have also suffered a steady drumbeat of disrespect, the repeated refrain that US schools are failing and terrible, an accountability movement that is more about threats than support.”
An 18-year-old report from the ASCD, a professional learning community for teachers, helps us understand how harmful this is.  “…New teachers enter teaching primarily for its intrinsic or psychological rewards—that is, the opportunity to engage in meaningful work, the pleasure of working with children, and love of a particular subject area—rather than extrinsic rewards such as salary or public respect.”
Nobody chooses teaching for the pay. Good teachers want to make a difference in their students’ lives.
Class size matters. Teachers need time to listen to each student, acknowledge their interests, and make them feel valued. The Boise School District, with its ample tax base, has an average class size of 22 to 24. Teachers elsewhere may be dealing with 32 to 35; for secondary teachers, it can mean 150 or more students.
Student behavior matters. Theoretically, Idaho teachers may remove any student who prevents others from learning from their classroom. In reality, though, too many administrators may see a student in the office as a sign the teacher is failing.
Paul Boyce of the Foundation of Economic Education points out one more thing that matters–teacher autonomy.
Teachers thrive on using their own creativity and imagination to meet the needs of students. Students have less respect and are less motivated if they feel they are getting a canned course.
And education is being increasingly dominated by those who want teachers to be their robots. They want testing and accountability and control.
They don’t understand intrinsic rewards. They think teachers won’t work their hardest unless someone is telling them how bad they are.
And, when their changes haven’t worked, they’ve sought more control.
We must listen to Boyce, “In order to improve the quality of teachers, we must first empower the ones we already have.”

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019

Large classes – a good thing??

“Students may be better served by being in larger classes, if by hiring fewer teachers, a district or state can better compensate those who have demonstrated high ability and outstanding results.”

I can’t look at this statement by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos without wondering what classes were like in those private schools she attended.  Did they resemble the movie version of British schools of the last century, the ones where a fierce man in a dark suit hurls questions at students and adds clever, cutting insults if their answers don’t meet his standards?

Or–as a friend teaching in a rich-kid schools described it–did spoiled kids get away with threatening teachers because instructors could be replaced much easier than the tuition their parents paid?

Yes, there is research out there indicating that smaller class sizes are not necessarily better, but most I’ve seen compared classes of 24 with those of 18.  And results were mixed. Small classes make it easier to help too much–give the instructions three times, answer an unlimited number of questions, extend deadlines, etc. It becomes enabling. Small classes also make it easier to allow students to be creative and responsible.

There’s been less research on classes with 30 to 40 students, because there are rules against researchers harming their subjects.

Teaching methods must change as classes get larger. Projects take space; small group activities make noise. And 30 five-minute presentations would take nearly half-a-week of class time.

And verbalizing–converting thought into words–is one of the most important skills K-12 students must learn.

For students, large classes mean more listening and less doing.

For teachers,  they mean more grading and discipline and less creativity and fun.

And it saps teachers’ overall energy.  I used to feel I started each day with a big bag of motivation. I ‘d move among the students, dispensing a little here and there, downloading cup-loads where necessary–and even more late in the day when everyone was tired.

Secondary teachers have four to six classes. That means 120 to 200 greetings to give, voices to listen to, and names to remember. It’s hard to convince students that their progress matters to you if you can’t remember their names, plus a personal interest or two. (Kudos to those who teach large group activities–music and PE–and work with even more students.)

Teaching demands energy.

Someone who says, “I’ve taught classes of 40 before and I’ll teach classes of 40 again,”  hasn’t a clue what it means to teach youngsters.

And this is what makes Devos’s statement so ridiculous.  A good teacher will leave a job because of large classes, not sign up for a higher salary.

If it becomes difficult or impossible to do the right things for students–the things teachers know they are capable of–they suffer burn out.

Good teachers are willing to forego luxuries to hear a kid say, “I understand this now,” and they use their own money to create a classroom where kids who once felt behind or disinterested gain the confidence to explain newly-learned concepts to others.

Not that pay isn’t important. Fewer college students choose to go into teaching once they know that teachers earn about 80 percent of what other college graduates do.

And teachers can only postpone having a family or getting a decent car or paying on that student loan so long.

But no one should have to give up doing their best teaching to get higher pay.

Maybe DeVos’s schools all had classes of 18?

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019

Legislature – Good & Bad News

With March in sight and budget bills ready, the legislature moved into high gear this week, making some people happy, some sad, and others both happy and sad.

The most cheering news was that a bipartisan majority managed to kill two bills aimed at  repealing Medicaid Expansion while they were still in the House Health and Welfare Committee.

Representatives Julianne Young and John Green both argued that voters just weren’t bright enough to be trusted with such an important decision.  Okay, according to reporter Nathan Brown, their phrasing was more politically correct–the voters were “misinformed.” I imagine them doing some hand-wringing as they told committee members that voters weren’t aware that the state would have to pay 10 percent of the cost and, possibly, more than 62,000 would be enrolling.

I can also imagine Gov. Brad Little gritting his teeth as the pair carried on as though his State of the State address had not included a plan for funding the expansion. (Talk about misinforming voters.)

And Green went so far as to claim legislators may ignore the voters because, “we’re a constitutional republic, not a democracy.”

Don’t forget the names: Julianne Young, John Green.  And add the three who voted with them: Mike Kingsley, Megan Blanksma, and Bryan Zollinger.

And be thankful for Chair Fred Wood–and the three Republicans and three Democrats who joined him in killing the bills.

Bills to add work requirements and lifetime limits to Medicaid expansion are in the works.  Other states have spent millions administering such restrictions; that spending is not budgeted.

Many are also happy that the bill to create a committee within the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to review childbirth-related deaths passed the House last week.

Opponents of HB 109 nearly carried the day by arguing we didn’t need more bureaucracy to look into five to six deaths a year. The study, however, will become part of national data that may indicate why the U.S. maternal death rate is rate is three times that of Germany or the United Kingdom.

We will soon see how the Senate votes.

On a sad note, a bill to allow charter schools to hire non-educators as administrators, passed 21-12.  According to reporter Nathan Brown, Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer said “this bill is about giving charter schools a way to be more flexible and creative.”

Is there a stereotype that says educators are stuck in their ways? Or is it simply a feeling that education doesn’t require much expertise?

I’m sure necessity would make a non-pilot both flexible and creative in the cockpit, but It wouldn’t make up for lack of knowledge.

If a leader doesn’t have the experience to anticipate problems and work to prevent them, he or she won’t have the respect of the teachers. If a leader doesn’t understand the full scope of situations, he or she be inconsistent and follow the latest advice.

 And a leader without experience organizing playground activities and assemblies can get people hurt.

Idaho has many charter schools happy to have educators as leaders. Unfortunately, there are chains wanting to move in that are interested in milking the system for what they can get. They now have permission to hire “teachers” whose main job is recruiting. Do we really want them to hire directors who are more business-oriented than kid-oriented?

Now the House may act on SB 1058. I’d love to think members would stand up to the corporations pushing this, but I have doubts.

Expect the legislative roller coaster to pick up even more speed in the next few weeks.


Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019

Education Progress??

In 2010 the State Board of Education set a goal to have 60 percent of Idaho’s 25- to 34-year-olds hold some post-high school certification by 2020.  With employment forecasts predicting most job growth to be in medical and computer-related fields, the goal made real sense.

Now, it’s apparent Idaho won’t be meeting the 2020 target date.

Yet, the state has made a real effort.

For a couple decades, Idahoans have been able to check online for the education needed and salary to be expected for hundreds of careers. To help more students raise their expectations, the legislature upped the funding for college and career advisers in schools. Special efforts are made to reach out to students who would be the first in their family to attend college.

In 2013 the state launched the Idaho Opportunity Scholarships.  Last year 3,716 Idaho students received scholarships “up to $3,500.”

The State Board of Education now sends each senior a letter stating which Idaho colleges and universities are ready to admit them. No more worrying while the admission form is processed; kids now know in advance.

And–fanfare please–the state’s Fast Forward Program provides each secondary student $4,125 to pay for AP classes that award both high school and college credits. High-ability students now start college in the comfort of their high school or home–and have up to a year in college credits when they graduate high school.

Still, the college go-on rate for high school seniors actually fell from 54 to 45 percent between 2013 and 2017.  And that is the number entering programs; the 60 percent goal is for young adults completing college or technical programs.

How could such great effort by the legislature produce such disappointing results?

Some point to an increase in the high school graduation rate.  If schools manage to keep two percent more students engaged until they earn a high school diploma, that’s good. Still, if none of these students goes on to post-high school education or training, the go-on rate dips.

Others point to the ease in getting jobs today. Unemployment in Idaho has dropped by two-thirds–from nine to three percent–since 2009. Going directly from high school to having real wages in your pocket is tempting to many young adults.

We shouldn’t, however, ignore the elephant in the room–college costs more than ever and many graduates will never get their student loans paid off.

If mom or dad now owes $45,000 on the $30,000 in student loans they took out 20 years ago, kids are apt to think twice about starting their adult life in debt.

Is that possible?  Yes.

Payments can be set as a percent of income.  Idaho’s relatively low wages leave many paying less each month than the interest on their loans.

In 2010 the government passed 10-year and 20-year loan forgiveness programs for those in certain occupations, but chances are the current administration will cancel these before a single student qualifies.

And, although Idaho students pay the sixth lowest rate in the nation for state colleges, it’s far from the tuition-free rate once believed to be mandated by our state Constitution.

Forty years ago, the Idaho’s general fund paid 94 percent of our colleges’ budgets.  Today, the state’s share is barely over 50 percent. The state didn’t cut its contribution–colleges are finding it necessary to spend nearly ten times as much for faculty, buildings, and technology.

Would I still advise young people to go to college.  Yes.

But, then, I’ve never tried to start a career and a family while $50,000 in debt.

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2018

Idaho Politics: Education, The Gap, and Public Lands

by Judy Ferro

Following candidate forums in Pocatello and Twin Falls last week, newspapers in both cities ran nearly identical headlines stating that education, health care reform and public lands dominated discussions.

These are issues important to voters on which Democratic and Republican candidates differ; moreover, on these issues, most Idahoans agree with Democrats.

Republican legislators are good about setting high goals for students and schools, but not so good at achieving anything. For one thing, they tend to think change is so easy a little pontificating in Boise will make a difference. For another, they insist on ignoring the connection between money invested in schools over time and results.

In 2010 Republican legislators bragged about giving tax breaks to “job creators” (the wealthy) while cutting Idaho’s already dismal school funding by 20% and setting a goal that 60% of Idaho young people would “go on” with education after high school. They followed that up in 2012 and 2014 by implying teachers were incompetent and selfish and passing laws to eliminate faculty rights to speak out on issues such as class size and curriculum content. Predictably, teachers left the state and the profession. The “go-on” rate fell as students responded to tuition increases rather than legislators’ exhortations.

Voters rebuked the legislature by rejecting the Luna Laws and passing levies to maintain school quality. Some even voted Democrat for the first time.

So in 2015 and 2016 most Republican legislators supported increasing education funding enough to claim the K-12 appropriation reached 2009 levels, even though per student spending didn’t come close; we have 18,000 more students. The legislature also passed bills allowing college graduates with only six weeks of education training to teach in public schools, and anyone to teach in charter schools. Funding for higher education remained dismal.

Now voters have the choice of saying they endorse the mixed offerings of Republican legislators or whether they want more for their schools.

On health care reform, Republicans have been content to hold hearings and do nothing. If Republicans had their say, the fact that 82,000 Idahoans have no access to affordable insurance would never come up. Apparently, saving lives and tax payer dollars is less important than ensuring people don’t become “dependent.” It’s okay for legislators to depend on state health care, Federal Ag supports, and beefed-up retirement deals. It’s even okay for general citizens to depend on government-ensured clean air and water, and safe bridges and roads. But we dare not follow many industrialized countries and treat health care similarly.

Voters may decide between candidates who think unnecessary deaths are tragedies or someone who promises a better plan some unforeseeable day in the future.

Republican candidates seem united on promoting state ownership—or at least management—of public lands, but there could be an underlying split. Some may actually believe the state could better manage these lands, especially if the Feds hand over the funds they are currently spending. Others, however, are determined to see the state funnel every cent that can be wrung out of the land into some corporate deep pockets, just like private prisons and chain charter schools.

For years Republican think tanks have been promoting plans to monetize even our national parks by mining, forestry, and recreation use of the same land to separate entities. Selling, not leasing. As in forever.

Voters are being asked to embark on a “slippery slope” without knowing just how much of our land access Republicans are willing to lose.

Your job as a voter is to examine candidates’ stands on the issues and dare to vote for someone you agree with.